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Notes from a Small Island
Bryson, Bill
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Gerry Anderson Comics

Please note we no longer buy and sell comics

This article gives some details of the comic strips associated with Gerry Anderson productions, and the publications in which they appeared.

Although there were some books published about Anderson's earliest fictional characters of 'Twizzle' and 'Torchy', it was not until the puppet western series 'Four Feather Falls' that Anderson first made it into the world of children's comics.

TV Comic

TV Comic, launched in 1951, is one of the longest running children's weeklies. It was aimed at a very young readership, and its main selling point has always been the weekly comic strips of children's television programs. The comic is not collected greatly in order to get a full set, as for example the long running D.C. Thompson titles such as Dandy and Beano, but more for the individual television programs contained in each issue. In its long history, it has featured strips of many television programs which are now very popular with collectors. These include such favourites as 'Doctor Who' and 'The Avengers' as well as a number of the Gerry Anderson television programs.

'Four Feather Falls' first appeared in the magazine in 1960 with a two page centre spread about Tex Tucker and life in his small cowboy community. The strips were gentle, run-of-the-mill stories about Tex Tucker's brushes with the bandits Pedro, Fernando and Big Ben and his generally peaceful relations with the local Red Indians. They were well drawn, with good likenesses to the television characters.

The arrival of 'Supercar' on television was quickly followed in 1961 by the second Anderson strip in TV Comic. This series followed the exploits of Mike Mercury and his friends in their amphibious flying car. 'Supercar' took over the centre pages, and for a while ran at the same time as 'Four Feather Falls'. Owing to the greater popularity of 'Supercar' with Anderson collectors, TV Comic issues featuring Supercar are generally more expensive than those featuring 'Four Feather Falls'.

The third Anderson strip to appear in TV Comic featured the adventures of Steve Zodiac and his astronaut friends in the spaceship 'Fireball XL5', which first appeared in the comic in 1962. Issues containing 'Fireball XL5' are quite hard to come by, and in great demand with collectors due to the rising interest in Gerry Anderson's productions at this stage.

TV 21 - the best TV comic ever?

In 1965, the series 'Stingray', which told the immensely popular underwater adventures of Troy Tempest and his friends, was rewarded with its own comic. TV Century 21 hit the bookstalls to the delight of a million children on 23rd January 1965. The magazine, later to drop the 'Century', and now known widely as TV21, was a brilliant piece of marketing by A.P. films, which capitalised on the immense popularity of the latest Anderson shows.

Despite the fact that 'Supercar' and 'Fireball XL5' were made long before the start of 'TV21', they were still being shown sporadically on ITV, and they were also featured in the magazine. 'Thunderbirds' was not featured in TV21 until issue 52 , but one of the key characters from it, the aristocratic Lady Penelope, was featured from the start.

'Fireball XL5', 'Stingray' and 'Lady Penelope' were the three colour strips which started with the launch of the magazine. The front covers were in colour too, with photographs either from one or more of the Anderson television series, or occasionally of the stars of the back page feature - 'The Daleks'. Although the long running 'Dalek' strip in TV21 did not feature Doctor Who ( whose copyright was with the BBC while the Dalek copyright belonged to Terry Nation ), it is still very popular with Doctor Who collectors and pushes prices up for TV21 comics. Some of the TV21 strips were later reprinted in the Marvel Doctor Who comic which is still running.

In contrast to TV Comic which was a traditional strip comic, TV21 was presented as a newspaper for children with a front page of 'Stop Press' items and 'news' style photographs of their puppet heroes. The fresh approach captured the imagination of a whole generation of children, and at its peak TV21 was selling over one million copies every week.

Early copies of TV21 are very hard to find, and fetch very high prices compared to almost all other Anderson printed material. It is easy to see why. The artwork was of an excellent standard, with artists like Eric Eden and Frank Bellamy ( who had worked on 'The Eagle' ) contributing strips for the magazine. It was also a very 'new' style of comic, and had no competitors in its own particular field of science-fiction and secret agent adventure strips.

Yes m'lady

The much heralded arrival of 'Thunderbirds' in TV21 came after the first immensely successful year of the comic. In issue 52, Lady Penelope visits Tracy Island to see the home of International Rescue, and agrees to be their British agent. On the following week, Lady Penelope was given her own comic in a spin off from TV21 aimed at girl television fans. The emphasis here was a little different, with the first class Lady Penelope strips being accompanied by features on pop stars and fashion. This comic is also very popular with collectors, with many photographs from the television series.

A glance through the early issues of TV21 and Lady Penelope gives some idea of the enormous popularity of Gerry Anderson's productions in the mid 1960's. There were any number of models, records, books and toys available and all of these items command high prices today.

As well as the weekly TV Century 21 and Lady Penelope comics, there were also a number of 'Specials' published by the magazine which have become very prized collectors items. An example is the 'Thunderbirds' extra from 1966, which contained 48 pages devoted almost exclusively to 'Thunderbirds'. Due to its size, this issue was stapled unlike most of the other Century 21 productions which were not.

The 'Thunderbirds' special contains the usual array of excellent strips, as well as an unlikely invitation to 'Build your own Thunderbird 1', the components of which were featured on pages 20 and 29. I doubt if even the most ardent Anderson fan would have attempted this task, as the resulting paper model would at best have looked rather disappointing. However, it is worth checking that these pages are present if you are offered a copy of the magazine. As a 'Thunderbirds' momento, this production, like the 'Stingray' special, is a very worthwhile addition to a collection.

Another important 'Thunderbirds' item published by Century 21 was 'Thunderbirds are go', a glossy large format soft cover book about the first 'Thunderbirds' feature film which is full of stills from the film. The story of 'Thunderbirds are go' was also serialised in 'TV21' in issues 101-104, and illustrated with stills rather than the usual artwork.

In 1967 the indestructible 'Captain Scarlet' appeared on television and in the pages of TV Century 21. Meanwhile, Captain Scarlet's enemies 'The Mysterons' were having their history explained in another City Magazines publication TV Tornado which also featured the popular series 'Man from Uncle' and 'The Saint'. TV Tornado merged with TV21 in September 1968.

TV Century 21 comic officially dropped the 'Century' from the title at the start of 1968 after 154 issues. On 18th January 1969, the latest Gerry Anderson success, 'Joe 90', was given his own paper. This was not a very long lasting publication however, merging with TV21 in September 1969 after just 34 issues. From this point onwards, the TV21 and Joe 90 comic as it was then called restarted their numbering from number 1, with 'New Series No.' given on the front cover. The new comic kept to a similar format, but the Anderson strips of 'Joe 90' and 'Thunderbirds' were relegated to black and white in favour of the new favourites 'Star Trek' and 'Land of the giants'.

Countdown to TV Action

The next comic to feature Gerry Anderson was Countdown, launched on 20th February 1971. Serials were run of no less than six Gerry Andeson productions in some issues. 'The secret service' sometimes had a page, along with the latest Anderson production 'UFO', the popular 'Stingray','Thunderbirds', 'Joe 90', 'Captain Scarlet' and , amazingly ten years after the first episodes were made, the venerable 'Fireball XL5'. The cover story of Countdown varied from week to week, with the Gerry Anderson productions alternating with the 'Doctor Who' strip depending on which particular story was the main feature.

As with TV Comic, Countdown is very collectable for the 'Doctor Who' strip as well as for the Gerry Anderson items. The artwork in Countdown is generally of a high standard, and the paper is very popular with collectors.

In 1972 Countdown merged with TV Action, and at this point 'Doctor Who' became the dominant strip in the magazine and the featured story on all but a few of the front covers. In 1973, with issue 101, the magazine dropped Countdown from the title, and became New TV Action. This issue also heralded the arrival of the new Anderson production 'The Protectors', the much maligned but quite enjoyable secret agent series. The cover of the first issue of New TV Action featured pictures of the stars of the show, former 'Man from Uncle' Robert Vaughan and the glamorous Nyree Dawn Porter. As well as the usual television strips, New TV Action featured the new generation of pop stars such as David Cassidy and The Osmonds whose popularity was chiefly with young teenagers at whom the magazine was now aimed.

Look out for Look-in

Since the demise of New TV Action in the early 1970's, the major comic to regularly feature children's television programs has been TV Comic, with Look-in also featuring a few ITV programs. The lack of a modern equivalent of TV21 or Countdown is surprising in a way, considering the consistent popularity of television with children. Perhaps the arrival of home video has made popular television programs accessible at the touch of a button, so the desire to see another story before next week's episode has been largely taken away. Future collectors of memorabilia of today's television programs may have to be content with the odd annual and the occasional paperback storybook to put on their shelves.

In 1982 and 1983, Polystyle Publications, who had published Countdown and TV Action in the 1970's, and TV Comic for many years, reprinted some of the 'Stingray' and 'Thunderbirds' strips in 'Gerry Andersons Thunderbirds Special' and 'Gerry Andersons Stingray Special'. These comics, although quite recent, are already being snapped up by collectors and their value is sure to increase considerably in the next few years.

One important factor to consider when collecting comics is the presence or absence of 'free gifts'. The first issue of most comics features such a gift to attract an initial readership who may or may not stay with the comic. In this respect, the Gerry Anderson comics are no exception. The first two TV21 comics contained a secret code book and special agent badge with coded message forms respectively. Lady Penelope number 1 featured her ladyship's signet ring, while the first Joe 90 comic came with Mac's jet car kit. Many other gifts were given with other issues, usually when the interest of the readers might be beginning to flag.

As a general rule, issues of comics with missing free gifts will be worth about the same as other issues around the same number. However, the presence of a free gift, particularly with a very rare comic such as the first issue of TV21, can multiply the value of the comic by two or more times. The reason for this is that to the purist a comic is incomplete without its free gift, and so 'complete' copies must be worth more.

Thirty years after the creation of his first puppet character, 'Twizzle', Gerry Anderson is still producing television programs, and has also branched into advertising. There is continuing interest in all his productions, but particularly in the old favourites from the 1960's. There is a Gerry Anderson appreciation society, 'Fanderson', who publish an excellent magazine 'Supermarionation is go' (S.I.G.). Many back issues of the magazine contain details not only of the printed Anderson material available, but also of the enormous number of toys, games, gum-cards and other ephemera which are of interest to the keen Anderson collector.

Interest in Gerry Anderson is growing fast, as the children who first enjoyed the productions from the 1960's are now old enough to buy Anderson material for 'nostalgia' value. New fans who have grown up with the under-rated 'Terrahawks' can also see the older Anderson productions on home videos. The market for Gerry Anderson items is gradually picking up, and the value of comics and other such fragile items is liable to rise sharply over the next few years.

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